A provision in President Joe Biden’s Executive Order (EO) 14008, titled “Tackle the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Create Jobs, and Restore Scientific Integrity across the Federal Government,” promises to recast the nation’s conservation practices for decades to come.
Section 216 of the January 27 EO calls on the United States to “achieve the goal of preserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.”
A Department of Interior “fact sheet” on what has come to be referred to as the “30 X 30 Plan” states “only 12 percent of lands are permanently protected,” adding the same is true for 23 percent of the nation’s waters. The EO leaves unexplained how the amount of land protected is to be raised to “at least” 30 percent in nine years.
The White House directed federal agencies to produce implementation strategies to carry out the order within 90 days. When the resulting 22-page document, “America the Beautiful,” was released on May 6, instead of providing specifics concerning how to reach the goal of protecting 30 percent of U.S. land and water, the document was a litany of generalities about the importance of biodiversity and the urgency of confronting climate change.
The federal government currently owns about 27 percent of the America’s land. Yet the Biden administration argues only 12 percent of in the United States land is protected. As a result, it is unclear where the additional land and water is going to come from to obtain protection of 30 percent of the United States by 2030.
Western Legislators Object
Members of Congress and state legislators in numerous states are expressing concerns about Biden’s 30 by 30 plan, and the Interior Department’s February 11 revocation of a Trump-era order requiring that state and local governments have a voice in federal land acquisitions within their jurisdictions.
In a March 16 letter to Biden, 64 members of the Congressional Western Caucus pointed out the federal government already manages 640 million acres of land or one million square miles in the United States, 90 percent of which is west of the Mississippi.
“Western states will be disproportionately impacted by policies set in place to achieve the 30 by 30 goal, which we fear will impact revenues derived and jobs that depend on multiple-use public lands,” the letter says. “Our lands and our waters must remain open to activities that support our rural economies and help us achieve our agriculture, timber, recreation, energy, and mineral needs.”
Governors Question Constitutional Authority
Governors from 15 states, ranging from Alabama and Tennessee in the Southeast to Idaho and Alaska in the Northwest, questioned the Biden administration’s authority to undertake its 30 by 30 plan.
“[We] are not aware of any statutory or constitutional authority for the President, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or any other federal agency to set aside and permanently preserve 30 percent of all land and water in the United States,” 15 governors wrote in an open letter to Biden. “Nowhere in in the laws of our nation is the authority delegated to the President or executive branch agencies to unilaterally change the policies governing land use in America.
“Obtaining the 30 percent goal would require your administration to condemn or otherwise severely limit the current productive uses of such lands, infringing on the private property rights of our citizens and significantly harming our economies,” the Governors’ letter said, warning if the administration, in the view of the governors, goes too far, they will sue to block its actions.
Buying Land, Twisting Laws
The 30 by 30 plan could be enacted through a variety of means, says former Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, CEO of the Montana-based American Lands Council, for example, new land acquisitions funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or restrictions on public and private land use through rigorous enforcement of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, or by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issuing a new “Waters of the United States” rule declaring ephemeral bodies of water federally protected.
“Perhaps the most egregious of all is the possibility of a total prohibition of all human activity on the 640 million acres of federally controlled public lands,” said Fielder. “This would bring 27 percent of America’s land mass into so-called ‘protected’ status.
“But protected from what?,” asks Fielder. “Hikers, hunters, skiers, and virtually all beneficial economic activity perhaps, but certainly not from the greatest threat of all – environmentally destructive wildfires, a danger that would only be exacerbated by this policy.”
Although Biden’s 30 by 30 preservation plan is unneeded, there is a way to minimize the impact of the plan on states and private property holders, says Jane Shaw Stroup, manager of the Goodman Institute’s Liberty and Ecology blog.
“The 30 percent figure is unrealistic as well as totally unnecessary,” said Shaw Stroup. “However, since Biden is going to pursue that course of action, here’s one thing he should do: The administration should count as preserved the many examples of private conservation throughout the country.
“An inventory of such projects should be taken, as was done by the White House Council on Environmental Quality in the Reagan administration,” Shaw Stroup said.
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D., (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).